Market Reform for Education

Former school superintendent Ed Eiler, makes some excellent points in his recent OpEd in the Lafayette Journal & Courier. His observation that “no one person or entity has the standing to begin a real conversation to build a state and national consensus about how to move forward” is astute. But his solution that “real reform must entail not only inviting teachers into the conversation, but enabling them to lead reform efforts” is narrow minded.

Superintendent Eiler puts a great deal of emphasis on people. If the right person, or a person representing the right group of people, comes along then a real conversation about school reform can begin.  Apparently, previous discussions about education reform were “fake”. The problem is not that the wrong people are leading the reform efforts, nor is the problem solved if just the teachers lead. The problem is the system.

West Lafayette School Corporation spends $12,000 a year per pupil. Faith Christian School charges tuition of $5000 a year per pupil, at most. Yet the two schools have almost identical ISTEP scores.

So here’s a “real” question, why can a private pay school get the same results as the taxpayer school using about one half the money? It’s not the people as Mr. Eiler would have us believe, it is the system that is the problem. There is no market discipline creating economic efficiencies and improved quality in the government funded system.

The funding for the government schools is archaic and wasteful. Funds flow from private citizens to counties, to the state, through the state’s bureaucratic mess (including formulas that make the IRS blush because they are so convoluted) then back to the district. The oversight of the districts is worse; how do the Gary and Muncie school districts “lose” millions of dollars?

The funding for the private pay school is direct. The school determines a budget and charges a tuition to cover the expenses. Decisions on curriculum, standards for students and staff and other associated activities are developed and enforced by the school and paid for through the cost of tuition or through private gifts.

It is true that the private pay schools are the recipients of government largess in the form of vouchers. That leads to a series of “real” questions that Mr. Eiler, and the professional education bureaucrats refuses to acknowledge: “Why are so many parents using vouchers? Why are government schools so unresponsive to parents? Why are education professional scared of school choice efforts?” While Mr. Eiler’s is wondering among other things, “how much and what type of education should each child receive?”, parents and private pay schools have already answered the question. He is still waiting for the next taxpayer funded study to give him the answer about how you should educate your child; obviously you do not know how to do it.

There is an empirical test to determine what parents want. Let Mr. Eiler and the current government school system have their way, with one exception. Everything they do, including the cost of legislation regarding education, studies to determine the latest trend, covering the costs of failed districts like Muncie and Gary (how do you lose $13 million?) must be funded from tuition and private gifts. No taxpayer dollars.

Likewise for the current private pay schools. No taxpayer dollars.

Then let’s see where the students go, what kind of scores they achieve on standardized tests and how much it costs.

Until there is a direct economic relationship between parents and educators, the education system will never produce the desired results parents want; excellence in education for their specific child. The best the current system can offer is more of the same; expensive, one size fits all mediocrity.

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